Same as it ever was
When the news flashed that Don "the Don" Mazziotti was on his way out as CEO of the Portland Development Commission, it looked like a golden opportunity for much-needed change in the way that agency does business, and even more importantly, in the way the City of Portland approaches "urban renewal." "Maybe Nick Fish will take it over!" some people gushed. But those who got their hopes up, momentarily, can't be too pleased with the list of four finalists who have emerged to replace Mazziotti.
I'm sure they're all nice, bright people, but let's face it, it's two of the usual suspects, a third fairly familiar face, and a fourth guy who might as well be from the moon. For all the thousands that the PDC is paying to the local headhunter outfit Murphy, Symonds and Stowell, they didn't exactly come up with a dynamic roster of change agents.
Here are the finalists, in the order of likelihood of getting the job (Note: These odds were revised after an alert reader pointed out a statistical error in my original analysis):
The PDC hasn't graced us with these folks' resumes. Though they say they want our input at some upcoming public meetings on the search, as usual they don't want us to have any facts beforehand. But of course, in these days of the internet, that doesn't stop anyone from trying to piece the information together on their own. Here's what I've come up with so far, and I invite readers to fill in, in the comments below, the many gaps I'm leaving:
Knowles, who amazingly hasn't got an organized bio or photo posted anywhere that I can find on the internet, is the most likely winner of Mazziotti's position. He was Commissioner Charlie Hales and Mayor Vera Katz's director of planning for more than five years ending in 1999, and he was a Metro councillor from 1986 to 1991. As I recall, he shares the Katz vision of Portland, which in turn matches the Erik Sten vision of Portland, which in turn makes Knowles the natural frontrunner.
Since leaving City Hall, Knowles has worked for Shiels Obletz Johnsen and David Evans and Associates, two prominent construction management firms that doubtlessly have made tons off PDC projects over the years. He's sat on Diane Linn and Katz's school "quality advisory council," or whatever the thing is that's supposedly monitoring the education expenditures being made out of the county income tax. He headed a public advisory board whose recommendations preceded the Portland schools' failed search for a superintendent in 2002. Knowles more recently coordinated the city's Rose Quarter study -- a pet project of Sten's, as I recall. He's all for a publicly subsidized convention center hotel. He endorsed his old City Hall colleague Sam Adams for city commissioner (Metro Councillor Brian Newman too), and he fits right in with the propaganda that the oversized PDC (180 employees, I hear) and the city's bloated planning bureau (I hear something like 200 employees) really need to work together more efficiently, blah blah blah. I'm sure Team Goldschmidt would be delighted with his appointment, and given recent practices, I suspect that Hennessee is already drafting the public announcement of Knowles's anointing.
I had contact with Knowles's planning bureau back when I was a resident of the Buckman neighborhood, and it was then that I witnessed firsthand the insensitive mistreatment that neighborhoods like Buckman receive from bureaucrats like Knowles. The issue du jour was the siting of a commercially operated gangster halfway house across the street from the Buckman Elementary School. The city washed its hands of the matter and let the facility go in, after one of the leading lights in the planning bureau decided (I am not making this up) that the recently sprung gang bangers were in fact "disabled" because they took drugs, and moreover were actually a single "family" because they were all technically in the custody of the state corrections department.
Not only that, but Knowles made a big public to-do about the fact that he was "recusing" himself from the matter because (I am not making this up, either) his wife had strong feelings about the case. If you think a guy like that is going to shake anything up, then you probably voted for Adams.
Moving slightly out from the entrenched inner circle -- but only slightly -- we find a guy named Bruce Warner, who's been running the state transportation department (ODOT) since 2001, when John Kitzhaber appointed him to that post. Warner is apparently from Brightwood, on Mount Hood in Clackamas County, and he's been working down in Salem rather than here in the Rose City for quite some time. (Meaningless aside: My friend's Volkswagen Rabbit, the worst car ever built, died in Brightwood once.) But Warner's resume includes a stint as chief operating officer at Metro, where I'm sure he became well acquainted with the Portland powers that be. Before that he was a regional manager for ODOT.
A couple of interesting stories emerge from Warner's time at Metro. It seems he was a strong supporter of the Opus Northwest development off I-5 in Durham. (I was down there for lunch last week -- pretty dismal. Welcome to the Worst of San Jose.) Warner apparently was also something of a thorn in the side of Sten's proposed regional real estate transfer tax that would have paid for low-income housing. The Opus connection could be a plus with the PDC commissioners, but crossing Opie hasn't helped anybody's career prospects in city government lately.
Next up on the list is Karen Williams, currently a partner at a big-bucks downtown law firm and formerly general counsel of the PDC. She has been in private practice since she left the PDC in 2001, and she's still big-time into the "public-private partnership" game:
Karen plays an integral role in assisting project managers and policy makers with both project and strategic advice in meeting economic development, housing, and redevelopment goals. She advises on contamination issues in real property acquisition, disposition, and for secured lenders. She is instrumental in finding common ground between public entities and private developers.
While she's working for private developers, she also finds time to do legal work for the PDC. A 2004 news release from the firm notes that the PDC hired her to work for it on something called the Rosemont project. Given the PDC's alarming contracting "practices" and the fact that it already had at least a couple of attorneys on staff, I don't even want to go there.
To me Ms. Williams has been through the revolving PDC door once or twice already, and for her to head back in as the CEO isn't going to do anything to help the agency with its conflict-of-interest problems. In any event, I don't see the current PDC crowd moving in her direction, if only for the fact that, though there's no way to know for sure, she looks as though she's only in her early 40s.
Mr. Jimenez came from the private sector bringing over 30 years experience in the banking world to this position. His most recent job with Bank One was as Senior Vice President and Regional Manager for Mexico/Latin America.
In his years with Bank One, Mr. Jimenez was responsible for: the bank’s international portfolio, including analysis and approval of credit and country risk; managed activities in Mexico that included Corporate, Border and Private banking offices in Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Arizona; reorganizing the marketing focus of the Mexico City subsidiary.
What a Latin America expert is doing on the short list for a Pacific Northwest urban renewal agency is anyone's guess. He may actually be qualified for the position, and naturally his Latino ethnicity would be attractive to any search committee. But realistically? Not a chance, unless there's a spectacular Portland connection that has dropped out of his public bio.
Aside from the fact that no one on this list moves me, I'm also dismayed that Mayor Potter is letting the lame duck cast of commissioners headed by Chair Matt Hennessee make the hiring decision. Although the mayor is interviewing the finalists and says he's going to state his preference, the facts are that under the current schedule the decision will be made by the end of the month, and four of the five commissioners voting will be the holdovers from the Katz-Goldschmidt administration: Hennessee; Goldschmidt pal Janice Wilson; attorney Doug Blomgren; and Eric Parsons, the head of Standard Insurance. These four have failed to ackowledge publicly the disaster that the PDC has become under their direction. Defiant in the imposition of their will over that of the majority of the population of Portland, they'll do as they darn well please, or perhaps as the Old Boy Network requests that they please.
If the decision were just postponed by only a month or two (perhaps with some suitable interim executive director acting as caretaker), Potter appointees would be casting three of the five votes, as Hennessee and Wilson are departing soon. I wish Potter would figure out a way to put the decision off until after Mazziotti, Hennessee, and Wilson are gone. Perhaps the Potterites are figuring that the new chief exec will have to play ball with the new Potter majority that will appear on the board this summer, but that remains to be seen.
Change at the PDC? It looks like it's going to be glacial, at best.